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Pa. Court Backs Secrecy for ‘Predator Priests’ in Blockbuster Report

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled Monday that it will not release the blacked-out names of priests implicated in a statewide grand jury report on child sex abuse in the Catholic Church.

“We acknowledge that this outcome may be unsatisfying to the public and to the victims of the abuse detailed in the report,” Justice Debra Todd wrote for the 6-1 court majority. “While we understand and empathize with these perspectives, constitutional rights are of the highest order, and even alleged sexual abusers, or those abetting them, are guaranteed by our commonwealth’s Constitution the right of due process. It is the unfortunate reality that the Investigating Grand Jury Act fails to secure this right, creating a substantial risk that Petitioners’ reputations will be irreparably and illegitimately impugned. This prospect we may not ignore.”

The petitioners in the case are 11 current and former clerics from across Pennsylvania identified in the report as “predator priests.” They have denied the report’s allegations, however, and said that they have a due-process right to have their names permanently redacted from the report so that their reputations not be impugned.

Complied over the course of an 18-months secret grand jury investigation, the 1,356-page report published in August 2018 recounted the abuses that 301 clergymen had inflicted on more than 1,000 children in six Catholic dioceses across the state.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro condemned the court’s decision Monday to keep the names of the priests secret.

“Today’s order allows predator priests to remain in the shadows and permits the Church to continue concealing their identities,” Shapiro said in a statement.

Shapiro also noted, however, while Monday’s order stops his office from releasing the names of the priests, the church dioceses face no such obligation.

Calling for the bishops to disclose the names with their parishioners and the public immediately, Shapiro said this result would be “consistent with their recent calls for transparency.”

Chief Justice Thomas Saylor wrote in a dissenting opinion that he supported the request by the petitioner priests to hold new hearings before the grand jury and challenge the attorney general’s compiled evidence, which includes internal church documents obtained via subpoena.

“At a minimum,” Saylor wrote, “it is my position that Petitioners should be provided the opportunity to advocate that the grand jury’s particularized findings of criminal and/or morally reprehensible conduct are not supported by a preponderance of the evidence.”

Two other members of the court majority published concurring opinions.

This article first appeared at Courthouse News.